KEY POINTS

  • A study has found that genetic material from the coronavirus may last up to a month in dust
  • The researchers gathered dust samples in rooms where COVID-19 patients were being isolated 
  • The findings did not indicate that the virus can be transmitted to humans through dust particles

A study has found that genetic material from the coronavirus can persist up to a month in dust.

Although the study did not evaluate whether dust can transmit the virus to humans, its findings have revealed another option for monitoring COVID-19 outbreaks in various places such as nursing homes, offices and schools.

The research team conducted the study by working with crews responsible for cleaning the rooms at Ohio State where students who tested positive for COVID-19 were isolated, Eurekalert has learned. They also collected samples from two patients who were self-isolating in their homes. These were then placed in vacuum bags.

Upon studying the gathered samples, the team found that genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus was present in 97% of the bulk dust samples. The samples were also tested weekly, and the researchers found that even after four weeks, the virus' RNA did not significantly decay in the vacuum bags.

Before collecting the samples, however, the cleaning crews sprayed a chlorine-based disinfectant in the rooms. The researchers believe that this destroyed the envelope of the virus. The virus' envelope plays a significant role in enabling it to transmit itself to humans.

"We weren't sure that the genetic material would survive - there are many different organisms in dust, and we weren't sure we'd see any viral RNA at all," said Nicole Renninger to Ohio State News. Renninger is the lead author of the paper and an engineering graduate student in Dannemiller’s lab.

"And we were surprised when we found that the actual RNA itself seems to be lasting a pretty long time."

The senior author of the study, Karen Dannemiller, shared that she wanted to contribute knowledge in helping alleviate the severity of the crisis. Dannemiller is the assistant professor of civil, environmental, and geodetic engineering and environmental health sciences at The Ohio State University.

“When the pandemic started, we really wanted to find a way that we could help contribute knowledge that might help mitigate this crisis,” said the senior author. “And we’ve spent so much time studying dust and flooring that we knew how to test it.”

Dannemiller's experience in studying dust and its relationship to potential hazards (such as mold and microbes) allowed her and the rest of the researchers to find that testing dust to monitor for COVID-19 outbreaks would be useful for communities with a high-risk population.

The research team's findings would be most handy in the coming months, especially since people have begun returning to communal spaces upon getting vaccinated.

The team's study was published in the journal mSystems.

Hospital employees in Wuhan, China seal an airvent to prevent possible airborne transmission of the new coronavirus Hospital employees in Wuhan, China seal an airvent to prevent possible airborne transmission of the new coronavirus Photo: AFP / STR